The IGF may need to reconsider the open consultations format if this May’s open consultation was any indication. I used the transcripts (and here) to perform a rough analysis of who spoke on the day and this is the outcome (rounded down to the nearest thousand words):
- Notes on the pie chart:
- Markus Kummer’s words have been split from the others because of his role as interim Chair.
- Likewise, I grouped together the word count from the informational presentations by the Indonesian local hosts, the official welcoming speeches by EBU and UNDESA and the comments by Chengetai Masango in his IGF Secretariat administrative role.
If you add up the total number of words said by Kummer, MAG members, and the miscellaneous others, that’s a whopping 30,000 words compared to only 12,000 words from non-MAG members.
Even if you remove the miscellaneous others, it’s still 27,000 words from MAG members and the Chair to a mere 12,000 from non-MAG participants (including remote interventions).
Another way of viewing it: of the 42,000 words spoken at the May open consultations, only 12,000 were spoken by the general Internet governance community.
Is the answer as simple as reminding MAG members that the open consultation day is for them to gather feedback from the community? Or is the problem more complex than overly talkative MAG members? Is the problem related to the Internet governance community itself?
Non-MAG members who spoke on the day
The majority of non-MAG member contributions came from a handful of well-known faces: Marilyn Cade, Milton Mueller, Zahid Jamil (ex-MAG), Martin Boyle and Avri Doria. All of these people have been prominent members of the Internet governance world for the last decade or more. I am not in any way criticizing their contributions. All have strong opinions on Internet governance issues and it is good that they contributed their views. They also represent different perspectives from within the business, technical and civil society stakeholder groups, which is important to the multistakeholder IGF.
But where was the wider community? The newer voices? The voices that the IGF is supposed to be encouraging to participate in the wider Internet governance ecosystem?
Why are so few newer voices participating in the preparations?
Contributing to open consultations isn’t limited to those who can afford the trip to Geneva. Remote participation is available to all. However, only around 30 people in total logged into the remote participation room on the open consultation day. One of the problems could have been the decision to schedule the preparatory meeting at the same time as the Stockholm Internet Forum. The Stockholm Internet Forum attracted a lot of the Internet governance crowd who may normally be interested in IGF open consultations. But the open consultations began a day before the Stockholm Internet Forum started, meaning that those who had arrived in Stockholm could have participated remotely.
Is it enough that newer voices participate in the annual global IGF? Is it okay that they don’t participate in the preparatory processes?
Given the fact that, during the MAG meeting that followed the open consultations, MAG members repeatedly commented that proposed workshops submitted by newcomers were consistently lower in quality than those submitted by the usual crowd, we may be seeing a negative feedback loop in action…
It’s difficult for newcomers, particularly from developing countries, to attend IGF without a specific purpose (being a speaker or session organizer). In turn, it’s hard for newcomers to know from experience what makes a good workshop, leading to their workshop proposals being rejected. And by not having workshops accepted, they yet again can’t justify attending IGF, leading newcomers to perhaps not feel they have enough experience to contribute meaningfully to IGF preparatory processes.
The developing country participants on the MAG certainly expressed a need for IGF to address the difficulties faced by developing country stakeholders during the May meeting. As a result, the MAG had agreed to work with the lower-scored workshop proposals from newcomers in an attempt to include more newcomers in the organizing of IGF activities.
With any luck, this may encourage more newcomers to participate in next year’s IGF preparatory process.
What is the future of the IGF open consultation day?
Another view is that the preparatory processes is just not important enough for most of the Internet community to set aside time to participate in. Let’s face it. The Internet governance calendar is already splitting at the seams with worthy events.
In which case, is it important that IGF continue following the open and participative process of holding open consultations, even if most of the wider community chooses not to participate? Is maintaining the principle of seeking multistakeholder input into a multistakeholder event more important than the reality: a lack of significant and diverse input by the community?
Given the MAG members made the overwhelming majority of contributions at this May open consultation meeting, perhaps it might be making the first day of the three-day preparatory meeting more flexible. For example, perhaps the Chair could ask MAG members to refrain from commenting during the open consultations-except to answer questions from non-MAG participants-and if all non-MAG members have exhausted their contributions by lunch or early afternoon, the MAG meeting could begin earlier.
There are lots of other ways IGF could encourage more participation on open consultation days, including:
- Don’t hold the open consultations in the same week as another major Internet governance event
- Limit the number of interventions any one person can make
- Actively ask the quiet people who are in the room (or in the remote participation room), but haven’t requested the floor, for their opinions on specific issues under discussion
- In advance of the meeting, publish specific questions for the community to consider rather than a general call for contributions
- Have MAG members reach out to people in their professional spheres to encourage them to participate remotely, if only for an hour or two
- Have MAG members conduct outreach when attending other Internet governance-related events, collecting feedback from the community on the fly, and report back during open consultation days on what they’ve been told by members of the community
Oh, and don’t let anyone who’s submitted a multi-page written contribution, particularly if they’re a MAG member, read out their contribution in its entirety at the beginning of the open consultation. It’s a mood killer, for sure.